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Anomalous molecules found in the atmosphere of Saturn’s moon Titan



The particles are called cyclopropenyl or C3H2 and are composed of carbon and hydrogen. This simple carbon-based molecule may be a precursor to a chemical reaction and may generate complex compounds. These compounds may be the basis of potential life on Titan.

The molecule was first discovered when researchers used the large millimeter/submillimeter array of the Atacama telescope in Chile. The radio telescope’s observatory captured a series of light signals, which revealed the unique chemical properties of the molecule in Titan’s atmosphere.

“When I realized I was looking at cyclopropenyl, my first thought was,’Well, this is really unexpected,” NASA Goddard Space Flight in Greenbelt, Maryland Said Conor Nixon, a planetary scientist at the center.

Cyclopropenyl groups have also been found elsewhere in our galaxy, mainly in gas and dust molecular clouds, including the Taurus molecular cloud. The cloud from which this star was born is located 400 light years away from the constellation Taurus. In these clouds, the temperature is too low for many chemical reactions to take place.

Cyclopropenyl groups are now only found in the Taurus molecular cloud and Titan atmosphere.

But finding it in the atmosphere is another matter. When this molecule collides with other molecules to form a new substance, it is easy to react.The researchers were able to spot it because they were observing the upper layer of Titan’s atmosphere, where there is less gas in the molecules It can interact with it.

Nixon said: “Titanium is unique in our solar system.” “It turns out that it is a treasure trove of new molecules.”

New evidence shows that Saturn’s moon Titan is largely covered by organic matter

Cyclopropenyl is the second cyclic or closed ring molecule found in Titan. The first is benzene in 2003. Benzene is an organic compound composed of carbon and hydrogen atoms. On earth, benzene is found in crude oil, used as an industrial chemical, and naturally exists after volcanoes and forest fires.

According to NASA, circular molecules are vital because they form the backbone of DNA nucleobases.

Research co-author Goddard’s astrobiologist Alexander Seren said in a statement: “Their cyclic properties open up this additional branch of chemistry, allowing you to build these biologically important molecules.”

The six infrared images of Saturn’s moon Titan were captured using NASA’s Cassini spacecraft.

When the researchers found cyclopropenyl in the atmosphere of Titan, they checked the data captured by NASA’s Cassini mission. Researchers found that the spacecraft made 127 close flybys of the Titan between 2004 and 2017. The Cassini mass spectrometer detected the chemical signature of the same molecule.

“This is a very strange small molecule, so it won’t be like what you learned in high school chemistry or even undergraduate chemistry.” Maraska did not participate in this research, but he studied Titan.

“Every little snippet and snippet you can discover can help you put everything that happened into one huge puzzle.”

The discovery of cyclopropenyl on Titan will increase the attractiveness of the moon.

Explore Titan

Scientists compare Titan to the earth because of its unique qualities.

Titan has a dense atmosphere of nitrogen and methane, giving it a fuzzy orange appearance. According to NASA, its atmospheric pressure is 60% greater than that of the earth, which means it exerts the kind of pressure you feel at the bottom of a swimming pool.

When sunlight touches Titan, the methane and nitrogen molecules in the atmosphere will decompose. This produced interesting complex organic chemistry in Titan’s atmosphere, which attracted the attention of scientists. Researchers are still screening Cassini data to try to determine certain chemical signatures detected by the spacecraft.

The lake on Saturn's moon may be an explosion crater

Titan’s surface also has earth-like liquids, but rivers, lakes and oceans are made of liquid ethane and methane, which form clouds and cause liquid gas to fall from the sky. Researchers also believe that there is a liquid ocean inside Titan.

More importantly, the surface temperature is too cold-less than 290 degrees Fahrenheit-rivers and lakes are carved out by methane, rocks and lava help form features and channels on the earth.

The map drawn by NASA’s Cassini mission shows that Titan is mostly covered by organic plains, which are plains and sand dunes of organic materials with rain on the surface.

Rosaly Lopes, senior research scientist and Titan expert at JPL, said in a statement: “We are trying to determine whether Titan is suitable for living.” “So we want to know what compounds in the atmosphere reach the surface, and then Whether the substance can reach the ocean below through the ice shell, because we think the ocean is a habitable condition.”

How life found its way on Saturn's moon

Understanding the organic matter on the surface of Titan may reveal more information about the history of the earth. In the early days, the atmosphere of our planet was dominated by methane instead of oxygen. In fact, the early Earth and Titan may be very similar.

In the future, NASA’s Dragonfly mission will explore Titan. The dragonfly will be launched in 2026 and will reach Titan in 2034.

A drone the size of a Mars rover will fly over Titan’s thick atmosphere and enter an impact crater. Researchers believe that when it hit Titan in the past (perhaps tens of thousands of years ago), important components of life mixed together. .

The dragonfly will spend two and a half years flying around the Titan. It has only propellers that can slide and land, but no wheels to roam on the surface. The mission will also explore Titan’s atmosphere, surface properties, underground oceans and surface liquids.

NASA's new mission

In a statement, Melissa Trina, an astrobiologist at NASA Goddard and associate principal investigator of the Dragonfly Mission, said: “We think Titan is a real-life laboratory. When we live here, we You can see chemicals similar to the ancient earth.”

Turner said: “We will look for molecules larger than C3H2, but we need to know what is going on in the atmosphere to understand the chemical reactions that cause complex organic molecules to form and descend to the surface.”


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